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The 11 Indies to Watch on VOD This December: ‘Tusk,’ ‘Pride’ and More

The 11 Indies to Watch on VOD This December: 'Tusk,' 'Pride' and More

“Before I Disappear” (Dec 1)

(Film Page)
Writer-director-star Shawn Christensen’s polished feature-length treatment of his Oscar-winning 2012 short “Curfew” contains all the strong moments that distinguished it while surrounding them with a few superfluous additions. Nevertheless, the movie provides some welcome context to the events from the short that eloquently define the main character’s downtrodden sensibilities. Carried along by Christensen’s fragile turn as a suicidal young New Yorker named Richie and the vivacious adolescent Fatima Ptacek as Richie’s fiercely individualistic niece, “Before I Disappear” features several moments of genuine heartfelt emotion. The drama finds Christensen and cinematographer Daniel Katz succeeding at establishing a distinctly moody atmosphere; set almost exclusively at night, “Disappear” takes place with bright colors against a shadowy cityscape, echoing the vibrant personalities struggling against the bleakness of everyday experience. With such accomplishments on display, there’s no doubting the craftsmanship behind it.

“Calvary” (Dec 23)

(Film Page)
Whereas director John Michael McDonagh and star Brendan Gleeson’s first feature together, “The Guard,” excelled as a straightforward black comedy, “Calvary” takes a leap of faith into uncharted territories of sincerity for the director, and for the most part emerges unscathed. Even as it delivers an emotional wallop, not every moment of “Calvary” goes down smoothly, as comedic scenes transition somewhat abruptly to tragic moments and the final reveal never reaches the heights of its Hitchockian inspirations. Uneven as “Calvary” may be at times, McDonagh never changes course from portraying the core of Father James’ troubles while exploring the predominance of detachment in our sardonic, mediated culture.  Bolstered by a triumphant lead performance by Gleeson, “Calvary” expertly adapts a hybrid of the small-town whodunit with religious drama that applies shades of Robert Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” to McDonagh’s cheeky wordplay.

“Comet” (Dec 5)

(Film Page)
Starring Emmy Rossum and Justin Long, writer-director Sam Esmail’s “Comet” is a star-crossed romance that often feels cosmic and intimate within the span of a single scene. Rhyming images from five different eras of a relationship that begins during a meteor shower and may or may not end more than half a decade later, the film carves out a space for itself among the drawn-out conversations of Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, the jumps between a turbulent couple’s honeymoon period and their eventual decline in “Blue Valentine” and the whimsical dream logic of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” And it’s as appealingly strange, funny, and melancholy as those components suggest. Heady and thought-out but with a clearly defined emotional center that doesn’t leave the viewer cold, “Comet” has an actual pulse and beating heart that feels vibrant and alive.

Escobar: Paradise Lost” (Dec 16)

(Film Page)
The directorial debut of Italian director Andrea Di Stefano, “Paradise Lost” confronts the challenge of representing Escobar’s legacy in a unique fashion — by making him a supporting character. Di Stefano centers the story around a fictionalized account involving young Canadian Nico (Josh Hutcherson) who inadvertently falls into the criminal’s crosshairs after falling in love with his niece (Claudia Traisac). Though initially warm to his potential in-law, Escobar ultimately exploits Nico’s allegiance by assigning him to aid in hiding the criminal’s fortune before his incarceration. While “Escobar” simplifies its subject’s exploits, leaving the details of his smuggling operation out of the picture, it achieves a more immediate effect by rendering the fear of Escobar’s power in visceral B-movie terms that makes them relatable. Di Stefano’s memorable debut feature makes up for its lack of sophistication with constant forward motion.

“Dying of the Light” (Dec 5)

(Film Page)
If anyone can make good on-screen use of an unpredictable personality like Nicolas Cage, it’s probably screenwriter and director Paul Schrader, the man responsible for drafting Scorsese classics “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” None of this is to imply that “Dying of the Light” will showcase an iconic performance from Cage, but expect Schrader to use the actor wisely in this action thriller about a retired CIA agent who resurfaces for a personal mission to kill his longtime terrorist nemesis. The film co-stars Anton Yelchin and Alexander Karim.

“Goodbye to All That” (Dec 17)

(Film Page)
 In “Junebug” screenwriter Angus MacLachlan’s directorial debut, the filmmaker provides a welcome alternative to tired formulaic Hollywood rom-coms. Starring Paul Schneider as a clumsy, recently divorced dad who must start a new life with his daughter, the film features a breezy tone and self-effacing but sophisticated visual style that allows darker undercurrents to sit comfortably beneath the action. MacLachlan’s brand of comedy grows out of the eccentricities of his memorable characters, and luckily for viewers he presents a gallery of women drawn with the detail and humorous intimacy often missing from portrayals of modern Western ladies in a film with a male protagonist. A paean to an age when lust is easy and love is as hard as ever, “Goodbye to All That” is the sort of picture that will charm the pants right off of you if you’re not careful. 

I Origins” (Dec 1)

(Film Page)
In Mike Cahill’s heady follow up to the breakout “Another Earth,” Michael Pitt plays molecular biologist Dr. Ian Grey, whose study of the human eye uncovers evidence with far reaching implications about our scientific and spiritual beliefs. The film explores the age-old debate regarding science vs. religion in a uniquely structured narrative. Cahill’s slick, experimental science fiction drama invests in grandiose swipes at big ideas and epistemological babbling, but the director generates an authentic sense of mystery by denying the possibility of fully understanding the secrets of the universe. Supporting actress Brit Marling may be serviceably focused, but Pitt keeps the narrative grounded with grave expressions that are never as overblown as the narrative’s grabs at profound themes.


“Pride” (Dec 23)

(Film Page
It’s the summer of 1984 – Margaret Thatcher is in power and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is on strike. At the Gay Pride March in London, a group of gay and lesbian activists decides to raise money to support the families of the striking miners, and later sets off in a mini bus headed for a mining village in deepest Wales to make their donation in person. And so begins the extraordinary story of two seemingly alien communities who form a surprising and ultimately triumphant partnership. A favorite at festivals in Cannes and Toronto, Matthew Warchus’ inspirational drama stars a can’t miss ensemble, including Bill Nighy, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine and Larissa Jones, among many others. 

“Starry Eyes” (Dec 1)

(Film Page)
Determined to make it as an actress in Hollywood, Sarah Walker (Alex Essoe) spends her days working a dead-end job, enduring petty friendships and going on countless casting calls in hopes of catching her big break. After a series of strange auditions, Sarah lands the leading role in a new film from a mysterious production company. But with this opportunity comes bizarre ramifications that will transform her both mentally and physically into something beautiful and all together terrifying. 


“The Skeleton Twins” (Dec 16)

(Film Page)
Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s chemistry in Craig Johnson’s “The Skeleton Twins” is something altogether different. Starring as two depressed twins who move in with one another at their lowest points, these are serious dramatic roles with dark comedic ingredients that take them out of the farcical realm and allow the actors to craft fully realized characters. The movie has a conventional heartstrings-pulling approach embedded in its bones, but the actors do the legwork in their most impressive on-screen work to date. 

Tusk” (Dec 16)

(Film Page)
Justin Long and Johnny Depp join “Clerks” director Kevin Smith for a weird, unpredictable movie that feels like only the director could have made it. Based off a premise proposed on Smith’s podcast with producer Scott Mosier in which a man gets turned into a walrus, “Tusk” alludes to its origins by focusing on a character who runs a loudmouthed podcast himself. Mixing a lighthearted tone with a growing disturbing atmosphere, “Tusk” is bound to be one of the more usunual moviegoing experiecns this year, especially when the grotesque physical transformation forced on Wallace gets underway. Despite all the nervous laughter that may result, “Tusk” still manages to generate a palpable sense of fear for its sheer twisted execution.


READ MORE: ‘Almost Famous,’ ‘Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion’ and More New Titles on Netflix This December

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