Capsule Options is a weekly column intended to provide reviews of nearly every new indie release. Reviews are written by Indiewire critic Eric Kohn and other contributors where noted.
REVIEWS THIS WEEK
Benh Zeitlin's 2006 short film, "Glory at Sea," rendered post-Katrina grief with an overwhelming sense of magic realism that quickly turned the project into a sleeper hit on the festival circuit. "Beasts of the Southern Wild," Zeitlin's feature-length debut, contains much of the same thing, repeated ad infinitum for roughly 90 minutes: Zeitlin offers up a majestic encapsulation of a child's worldview. Supremely ambitious and committed to profundity, "Beasts" sets the bar too high and suffers from a muddled assortment of expressionistic concepts, but it still manages to glide along its epic aspirations.
Zeitlin's lavish setting is an imaginary community called "The Bathtub" off the coast of Southern Louisiana, where a six-year-old African-American girl named Hushpuppy (a stunningly committed performance from newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis) lives on the swampier side of a levee with her strict father Wink (Dwight Henry), who relishes his daughter with hyperbolic tales of her absent mother. As Wink suffers from a terminal illness, Hushpuppy's reality gradually dissolves, a transition Zeitlin renders with a fantastic eye for natural wonder. The whole movie inhabits Hushpuppy's outlook, as she listens to those around her and draws colorful conclusions. The images never grow stale, but the narrative treasures its shiny visuals over a cogent narrative. If nothing else, this memorable effort eloquently displays Hushpuppy's fragile understanding of her world, where the only certainty is that nothing lasts forever. That makes "Beasts" into a gigantic triumph even when it falls apart. Criticwire grade: B+ [Eric Kohn]
Originally reviewed on June 25, 2012. Opened in several cities this week. Released by Fox Searchlight. Watch the trailer below:
When widower J.T. O’Neil (Steve Lemme) moves 10-year-old daughter Chandler (Rylie Jo Behr) and their dog Shakey from Toledo to Chicago, they go from congenial Mud Hens country to a status-obsessed city with two MLB teams. J.T. is also joining the big leagues, preparing cuisine for a celebrity chef’s restaurant and living in a gleaming high-rise — one that doesn’t allow pets. This live action family film employs exuberant stick figure animation and broadly-drawn villains: the dog-hating apartment manager’s hair is swept into two devil horns and the pretentious, cooking averse chef wears a cape. Director Kevin Cooper, who made shorts for Broken Lizard (co-founded by Lemme), embraces the troupe’s broad physical comedy, reveling in the spectacle of a feisty rescue mutt giving self-important snobs their comeuppance. (The O'Neils also tackle a school bully and their bumptious building superintendent Jerski.) There's nothing remotely subtle about "I Heart Shakey," an unabashed valentine to Midwestern gumption and canine companionship. Criticwire grade: B- [Serena Donadoni]
Opens June 29 in Naperville, Illinois (shown in 3D), Maumee, Ohio and Graham, Texas. VOD is available on most cable systems. Released by Amarok Productions. Watch the trailer below:
"Magic Mike" has received plenty of pre-release hype for drawing its story from lead man Channing Tatum's early career experiences as a stripper before his acting career took off, but its basic ingredients are simple enough that it could have been conceived from scratch. Nineteen-year-old shyster Adam (Alex Pettyfer) struggles to figure out his professional calling while living out a drab existence with his sister Brooke (Cody Horn), a serious-minded nurse's aide, in sunny Tampa. Roaming the streets one night, he encounters Mike (Tatum), whom he briefly met during a deadened construction gig. That's when things get funky.
Ever the entrepreneur, Mike immediately notices Adam's aptitude for drawing the opposite sex, and quickly enlists the younger man at the boisterous Club Xquisite, a hugely profitable all-male revue run by the Wonka-esque Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Anchored by a series of hilariously over-the-top choreography replete with lavish stage design and a lot of undulating torsos, "Magic Mike" nimbly settles into its snazzy coming-of-age story with an emphasis on breezy satisfaction: While ostensibly focused on the hustling Mike's gradual recognition of a higher calling beyond the stage, director Steven Soderbergh still relishes the candy-colored stage antics and the giddy rush that viewers of any sexual disposition can get from it. The movie eagerly has it both ways to the point where its pile-up of clichés barely matter. Criticwire grade: B+ [Eric Kohn]
Originally reviewed on June 27, 2012. Opens in several cities this Friday. Released by Warner Bros. Watch the trailer below:
Neil Young and Jonathan Demme team up for their third feature-length documentary, a trip down memory lane for the 66-year-old rocker. He and the "Silence of the Lambs" filmmaker hop into a 1956 Crown Victoria and, with the musician at the wheel, drive from Young's northern Ontario hometown, Omemee, to Massey Hall in downtown Toronto for a solo gig in May 2011. With his brother Bob leading the way in an old black Caddy, Young reminisces about his childhood in Omemee, including the time a boyhood pal talked him into eating tar because "it tastes like chocolate."
Demme mixes the intimate chitchat with scenes from the concert, showing 12 numbers in their entirety. These include "Ohio," Young's tribute to the four students massacred by the National Guard at Kent State in 1970. The song is accompanied by newsreel of the incident and head shots of the victims. Most of the film's concert footage is seen in close-up, with a minimum of shots of the audience. And Young's voice remains powerful. But do we really need a third Neil Young concert film? Fans of the grizzled rocker will think so, but other moviegoers will be less enthused. Criticwire grade: B [V.A. Musetto]
Opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles. Expands to other cities the next week. Watch the trailer below:
Actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley's Oscar-nominated 2006 directorial debut "Away From Her" was a seriously heartbreaking look at the dissolution of a longtime relationship with the unique hook of revolving around an elderly couple with nary a young person in sight. "Take This Waltz" involves the more familiar movie coupling of twentysomethings Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen), a husband and wife whose bond starts to dissolve when Margot falls for their suave neighbor Daniel (Luke Kirby). Despite its familiar plot, "Take This Waltz" overcomes many of its half-baked components — Rogen's out-of-sync goofball and a sister flimsily portrayed by Sarah Silverman chief among them — by rooting its narrative in the fragile Margot's uncertain subjectivity. Polley displays an eye for delicate visual motifs that contrast Margot's absurd romantic fantasies with her comparatively tame, uncertain existence. The filmmaker's screenplay complements its immersive atmosphere by eloquently capturing the nuances of the exhausting arguments hounding a relationship long past its due date. Criticwire grade: B+ [Eric Kohn]
Opens Friday in several cities. Currently available on several VOD platforms. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Watch the trailer below:
"You turn everybody on, but nobody's capable of turning you on," Judith (Carole Bouquet) is told in Andre Téchiné's irritatingly unfocused "Unforgivable." A bisexual model turned Venetian real estate agent, Judith marries writer Francis (André Dussolier) on impulse without either knowing much about the other's past. Francis' former infidelities are brought up by trouble-making visiting daughter Alice (Mélanie Thierry), who runs off without explanation. Francis' fruitlessly obsessive search for her is slowly redirected into baseless suspicion of his wife's fidelity. Hired to trail Alice, ex-con Jérémie (Mauro Conte) is the third part of a quasi-love triangle full of attempted murders, unexpected violence and the ever-present threat of police action. Téchiné's film shrugs off crime thrills for a sketchy consideration of commitment and relationships' ineffability, toggling between the two modes without reconciliation. With Judith reduced to a blank upon whom others project their desires and perceptions (per Bouquet's 1977 film debut, a truly obscure object of desire), it's hard to credit this film with real psychological insight or visceral impact. Criticwire grade: C+ [Vadim Rizov]
Opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles. Released by Strand Releasing. Watch the trailer below: