Out This Week 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
Danish comedian-turned-filmmaker Mads Brügger follows up his North Korean antics in "The Red Chapel" with an even greater envelope-pushing farce. His chameleonesque approach finds him gaining access to faux diplomatic credentials and assuming the role of a Liberian consul in the Central African Republic while engaging in backroom deals with various shifty power players eager to aid and profit from his agenda. A bald, neatly bearded European donning sunglasses and a deadpan expression, Brügger nimbly assumes the role he has created for himself: a slick businessman who takes advantage of bureaucratic loopholes in service of a mercilessly capitalistic agenda. The movie hovers in a seriously problematic gray area. Whereas Sacha Baron Cohen's parodic antics find him taking on the role of a cartoonish naif, Brügger's more controlled approach turns him into a real-life bad guy. However, if he's a victim of his own vitriol, Brügger still gets the point across: When it takes subversive mockery to show the truth, the system is seriously fucked. Criticwire grade: B+ [Eric Kohn]
Originally reviewed on Monday. Opens this week in New York and Los Angeles. Released by Drafthouse Films. Watch the trailer below:
This stifling Austrian drama concerns Roman (Thomas Schubert), a juvenile detainee, who is weeks away from parole. He finds work at a morgue caring for the dead—i.e., not breathing bodies. Breathing slowly chronicles Roman’s routine, but the film only gets interesting when he starts to gain some self-worth. Roman shares a beer (he’s not supposed to have) with a comely female stranger on a train, and he finds enough confidence to seek out his birth mother, who abandoned him years ago. Their encounter, in an IKEA, is curious, but, as engaging as this significant plotline is, it actually seems out of place with the rest of this enervating film. Breathing uses scenes of Roman holding his breath underwater to give symbolic meaning to his situation—the reason why Roman is in detention is eventually explained—but despite Schubert’s finely controlled performance, it can’t inject life into this competently made but mostly inert film. Criticwire grade: C+ [Gary M. Kramer]
Opens in New York on August 31. Released by Kino Lorber. Watch the trailer below:
"For a Good Time Call…"
A jubilant celebration of raunchiness, "For a Good Time Call..." maintains the giddiness of a classic Doris Day sex comedy with all the suggestive dialogue transformed into the real deal. If it's as bubbly and forgettable as its precedents, "For a Good Time Call…" also shares their carefree attitude toward situational comedy. Built around snarky one-liners it's alternately grating and hilarious, often for the same reasons.
Director Jamie Travis makes his feature-length debut from a screenplay co-written by Lauren Miller and Katie Anne Naylon best described as a naughty chick flick. Miller displays an enjoyable blend of caustic wit and emotional fragility in the lead role: Dumped by her workaholic boyfriend after he determines that they're boring, the character finds a place to stay through the help of her flamboyant guy friend (Justin Long). When he sets her up with the rambunctious Katie (Ari Graynor), the stage is set for a roommates-from-hell scenario. As it turns out, once Lauren discovers that Katie makes a living by whispering to horny males all day long, the tamer woman gives up trying to land a boring assistant gig and becomes Katie's work-at-home business partner. The movie relishes in the premise enough to elevate its proceedings to pure fantasy. As a friend tells the women, the phone sex business reflects "some fucked-up version of the American dream," and it's one from which the movie never truly wakes up. Criticwire grade: B+
Originally reviewed January 24. Opens in several cities this week. Released by Focus Features. Watch the trailer below:
"The Good Doctor"
The title is, of course, ironic. Martin Blake, the good doctor (or intern) of Lance Daly’s film may talk about getting into medicine to help people and may even mean it (as played by Orlando Bloom and scripted by John Enbom, the character is largely inscrutable), but he soon is making some highly dubious ethical decisions. Enamored of a teenage patient, he cures her of her urinary tract infection only to sabotage her recovery so that she can return to the hospital and his care. Things soon escalate and Daly plays the whole thing not as the farce it begs to be treated as, but as dead serious moral drama. Given that there’s little complexity to the film’s ethical issues and that the Blake character is too flimsy to carry the weight of even these limited concerns, however, the movie has nothing left to do but resort to a rather facile cynicism. Criticwire grade: C- [Andrew Schenker]
Opens Friday in New York. Currently available on VOD. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Watch the trailer below:
With her wild blond locks, doll-like face and gamine figure that belie her 23-years, Juno Temple has over the past three years mined a career of playing hot-headed teens with their fair share of demons. In "Little Birds," Temple lands her meatiest role to date as Lily, a restless teen desperate for an escape from her drab life on the shores of the Salton Sea, where her aunt (Kate Bosworth) cares for her disabled-vet husband, and her mother (Leslie Mann in dramatic mode) pines for a man. When a group of passing skateboarders invite Lily and her friend Alison (Kay Panabaker) to come out and visit them in L.A., Lily leaps at the opportunity, setting off on a journey of self-discovery with the more reserved Alison in tow. To the girls' surprise, the reality they discover a reality far darker than they anticipated.
Writer-director Elgin James successfully captures the escalating tension between the two teenagers, and coaxes fine performances from his cast -- particularly Temple, who he puts through a wringer. As coming-of-age films go, it has more in common with "Kids" than "Almost Famous." Criticwire grade: B+ [Nigel M. Smith]
Opens this week in New York. Released by Millennium Entertainment. Watch the trailer below:
"Ornette: Made in America"
Milestone Films continues its essential mission of restoring the perceptive and socially conscious works of underground American filmmaker Shirley Clarke with this mesmerizing 1986 portrait of jazz icon Ornette Coleman. Aided by cinematographer Edward Lachman, Clarke constructs a kaleidoscopic look at Coleman's technique through a remarkable collage of performances, personal reminiscences and dizzying montages that connect the Dallas native's vibrant music with the ideas and places that inspired it. From the dilapidated streets of his childhood to the existential theories of Buckminster Fuller, his influences come to life before our eyes. Building to a crescendo along with its orchestral soundtrack (which takes cues from Coleman's "Skies of America"), "Ornette" isn't just a love letter to the liberty of jazz rhythms; it excels at expressing them. Criticwire grade: A [Eric Kohn]
Opens this week at New York's IFC Center. Released by Milestone Films. Watch the trailer below:
This is the time of year that studios take big dumps, theatrically releasing movies they just want to go away. Take "The Possession," a worthless rehash of "The Exorcist" and other supernatural movie fare. Em (Natasha Calis), younger daughter of a divorcing couple (Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick ), has become possessed by an evil spirit in an antique box the kid bought at a yard sale. Since the box has Hebrew markings, the family turns to a Jewish scholar for help -- and the story proceeds by rote. If there's an original idea in this mess, directed in English by Ole Bornedal of Denmark, I couldn't find it. Bornedal probably couldn't either. Criticwire grade: D [V.A. Musetto]
Opens in several cities this Friday. Released by Lionsgate. Watch the trailer below: