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July 5, 2012 1:18 PM
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Out This Week: 7 Reviews of New Indie Releases

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.

Morgan Freeman in "The Magic of Belle Isle."

REVIEWS THIS WEEK

"Crazy Eyes"

"China Heavyweight"

"Collaborator"

"The Do Deca Pentathlon"

"The Magic of Belle Isle"

"The Pact"

"Savages"

"Crazy Eyes"

Los Angeles is gorgeously photographed in this extended date-rape joke of a movie, which is possibly the most misogynistic film of the year. Lukas Haas  stars as the too-familiar aging and self-loathing playboy, who looks at the whisky and pills by his bedside table and realizes he needs to grow up. This lifestyle of daily binge drinking, sleeping till four, supporting his gold-digging ex, and flying random women to New York (because that's a more surefire way to get laid than even four bottles of wine, he reasons) is supported by vague family wealth, signaled in cartoonishly ridiculously scenes with his flaky rich parents and spoiled son. He's cushioned from every problem except that all women are after his money. So the only one who can break through his glazed-eyed drunken wariness of women is "Crazy Eyes," a gross yet quirky alcoholic who won't put out. The only thing that redeems the disgusting sexism of a script like this is that there is something probably accurate in its observation that all it would take to get the attention of a sheltered misogynist is a combination of projectile vomit and being a tease -- behavior that shakes up his usual narrative of drinking, fucking and ignoring. But viewers may have higher standards for both intimacy and plot than this character does. Criticwire grade: C- [Miriam Bale]

Opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles. Released by Strand Releasing. Watch the trailer below:

"China Heavyweight"

Testing school children's potential capabilities as boxers, coach Zhang Zhao warns them to take this chance to get out of Sichuan or end up working on a tobacco farm. This warning offers the opportunity to examine economic opportunity -- how it's offered, who gets to take advantage of it, and who's excluded -- in the still-relatively-embryonic China. Yung Chang's disappointingly inchoate follow-up to "Up The Yangtze" lacks his first film's skill at using the personal as a framework for a broader examination of China's rapidly changing economic climate. Splitting its focus between a former pro turned coach who longs to return to the ring and two of his students, "China Heavyweight" has lots of flashy shots (boxers jabbing at the lens, woozy shots from beneath punching bags simulating the dizziness of disoriented trainees) but no focus, flubbing both the macro implications and the personal profiles. Criticwire grade: B- [Vadim Rizov]

Opens Friday at the IFC Center in New York. Watch the trailer below:

"Collaborator"

The central figure of Martin Donovan's new film is a quietly suffering artist with conflicted romantic feelings, and the movie resembles his state with a generally serene tone -- even though the motivating action of the story is essentially a kidnapping. When New York playwright Robert Longfellow (Donovan, who also serves as the writer and director) makes a trip back home to San Pedro, he bumps into childhood acquaintance Gus (David Morse), now an alcoholic with an growing rap sheet. After initially shaking off Gus, Robert agrees to a quick drink at his mother’s house, only to have the authorities descend shortly after the two crack open a few cold ones. Gus reveals a gun and refuses to let either man leave the house.

Donovan fails to put the ensuing hostage situation in a larger context. The radio show banter that plays over the film's opening sequence deftly captures the modern conventions of psychoanalyzing creative figures, but you’d be hard pressed to find a local TV news station that would get away with some of the shock antics that pepper the late-movie proceedings.

But inside the house, the interplay between Donovan and Morse maintains a natural feel as neither portrayal strays too far into self-righteousness or blinding mental instability. While the film never ventures into dark comedy, some understated comic beats levitate a story that could easily have become fatally self-absorbed. Criticwire grade: B [Steve Greene]

Opens Friday in New York at IFC Center. Also available on VOD. Released by Tribeca Film. Watch the trailer below:

"The Do Deca Pentathlon"

Mark and Jay Duplass may have gone to the proverbial dark side as studio filmmakers, but "The Do Deca Pentathlon" is a welcome reminder of their origins. Shot after their last low-budget effort, "Baghead," but shelved while the directors worked on the star-studded "Cyrus" and "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," the now-completed movie showcases their trademark ability to blend naturalism with slapstick comedy by rooting it in a charmingly understated story that's beside the point.

Although it assumes a light, inoffensive tone, "Do Deca" is unquestionably the brothers' most personal film by virtue of its antiheroes, a pair of warring siblings seemingly inspired by the directors themselves: Mark ("Baghead" star Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly) lead two very separate lives, as the neurotic Mark tries to make do with his low-key suburban life alongside wife Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur) and his adolescent son, while the slick Jeremy continues his carefree bachelor ways. The epic history of their troubled relationship becomes clear when an old VHS tape reveals the brothers' ritualistic throwdowns in a homemade Olympics competition that Jeremy abruptly resurrects over the course of a family visit. Enacted with the shaky camera and zooms found in every Duplass movie, "Do Deca" excels at demonstrating how this disarming approach allows the audience to maintain a casual relationship to the characters while growing intimate with their concerns. Criticwire grade: A- [Eric Kohn]

Originally reviewed March 15, 2012. Opens Friday in several cities. Released by Red Flag Releasing. Currently available on VOD. Watch the trailer below:


 

"The Magic of Belle Isle"

There's a comforting inevitability to "The Magic of Belle Isle," as an alcoholic author spends a soothing, rejuvenating summer in a sleepy lakeside village. (It was filmed at Greenwood Lake in New York, not Detroit's historic island park.) The wheelchair-bound Monte Wildhorn (Morgan Freeman) wrote Westerns and the ornate formality of his speech blunts the occasional misanthropic barb. He also shares a decorous cordiality with neighbor Charlotte O’Neil (Virginia Madsen), who has retreated to her family’s vacation house during a divorce. Monte gradually succumbs to the community’s relentless cheeriness, becoming a tutor to 9-year-old budding writer Finnegan O’Neil (Emma Furhmann) and an out of left field suitor for her resilient, optimistic mother. Guy Thomas’ script finds humor in small moments of kindness; director Rob Reiner, meanwhile, returns to "The Bucket List" territory, sans the life-affirming adventures. This "Belle Isle" has no melodrama, just folks quietly settling into a new life and delighting in their unexpected good fortune. Criticwire grade: B [Serena Donadoni]

Opens July 6 in New York and Los Angeles. Also available on iTunes, Amazon and most cable systems. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Watch the trailer below:

"The Pact"

Watching "The Pact," it’s difficult not to be reminded of how it began as a short film nearly a year ago. When twentysomething Annie (Caity Lotz) finds out that her sister has gone missing days before their mother’s funeral, she stakes out their childhood home in the hopes of finding clues to her whereabouts. After some unwanted paranormal vibes and related disappearances surface, Annie’s concern extends far beyond just a haunted house.

The central mystery seems more like a pesky nuisance than a decades-old whodunit yearning to be solved. There’s a perfunctory nature to many of the film’s pieces, from Caspar van Dien’s inquisitive sheriff character to the handful of jolting, seat-jumping moments included to provide the requisite scare count. Despite the lean nature of the opening hour, McCarthy truly delivers in one of the film's closing sequences, where the impressive physicality of the actors involved is by sudden dread. With a deeper cast of characters and a less by-the-numbers supernatural underpinning, it would have made for a truly memorable climax. Unfortunately, the scene feels less like a triumphant final act than a spooky setpiece that would have been just as effective without the lead-up. Criticwire grade: C- [Steve Greene]

Opens Friday in several cities. Also available on VOD. Released by IFC Films. Watch the trailer below:

"Savages"

Don Winslow's 2010 novel "Savages" was a kaleidoscopic encapsulation of the war on drugs that read like a movie pitch: an unabashedly pulpy, blood-soaked, smoke-filled, gonzo-inflected and extremely sultry look at every facet of the drug trade from the perspective of its participants. Unsurprisingly, erstwhile chronicler of countercultural excess Oliver Stone chose to adapt Winslow's novel and the result is a fabulously adrenaline-charged work that's too messy to represent a comeback for Stone but certainly marks a return to form.

Stone boils down the essence of this approach by laying out its various power players through the voiceover narration of Ophelia (Blake Lively), neé O, a freewheeling stoner who spends her days cavorting around with entrepreneurial weed peddlers Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch). The two men share a posh life with O that extends to the bedroom, but otherwise have little in common. Their lives get complicated by a territorial Mexican drug cartel led by a menacing Salma Hayek and enforced by a stereotypical goon played by Benicio Del Toro. John Travolta surfaces as a corrupt DEA agent, rounding out a cast that clearly enjoys the grimy material. However, the ensuing barrage of hold-ups, shootouts and further kidnappings unfold in underwhelming doses. "Savages" clicks better when it relegates the conflict down to a series of terse exchanges that illustrate the drug trade's mutually assured destruction. Criticwire grade: B-

Originally reviewed July 3, 2012. Opens Friday nationwide. Released by Universal Pictures. Watch the trailer below:
 

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