Director. Taika Waititi
Stars. Taika Waititi, James Rolleston
Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark) stars and directs this 1980’s-set coming-of-age New Zealand comedy about a young Michael Jackson-obsessed Maori whose life flips after his delinquent dad shows up tracking buried treasure. While the film is quite comedic (including reenacted fantasy scenes of some of Jacko’s hit videos) Waititi anchors the charmer with a compelling bit of emotional potency.
Director. Martin Donovan
Stars. Martin Donovan, David Morse
A witty and well-paced thriller starring Martin Donovan as a playwright who gets haplessly holed up with a gun-toting neighbour (the excellent David Morse). Besides being a witty deconstruction of hostage-film clichés, Collaborator offers some interesting observations about the writing process itself — in the end it’s a film about how art imitates life rather than the other way around.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Director. Benh Zeitlin
Stars. Quevenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry
This critically praised indie is shot with a poet’s eye but it’s not poetry. Director Benh Zeitlin’s debut slams together artful mysticism and calculated naturalism to create a dubious sort of hybrid. Six-year-old Quevenzhane Wallis holds the fort as a motherless sprite endangered by a storm but the other characters are blurry and the relentless reaching for “powerful” effects grows tiring by the end.
Neil Young Journeys
Director. Jonathan Demme
For their third collaboration, Neil Young and director Jonathan Demme (who made Stop Making Sense, one of the greatest concert films of all time with Talking Heads) find themselves in Young’s hometown, Omemee, Ont., before heading out on a trip down memory lane (and the trans-Canada) on their way to Young’s gig at Massey Hall last May. Interspersing shots from the road with selections from Young’s two-night stand, Demme uses his intimate access to literally get up close and personal, using incredibly tight shots. As with so many things Neil Young related, it’s unclear what the artist’s intentions are. But with performances this stunning, it’s worth the effort.
Fat Kid Rules the World
Director. Matthew Lillard
Stars. Matt O’Leary, Jacob Wysocki
Based on a young adult novel, actor Matthew Lillard’s directorial debut is a small film about a big kid. Troy, an overweight high-school student fraught with social problems, tries to step in front of a bus, only to be saved by an enigmatic drug addled punk rocker named Marcus. Much to Troy’s surprise Marcus insists they start a band together as well as providing the homeless teen with the occasional meal or floor to sleep on.
Lillard expertly captures typically-awkward teenage life, without succumbing to base stereotypes.
Director. Nancy Savoca
Stars. Tammy Blanchard, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rispoli
Union Square is a kitchen-sink drama that explores the dysfunctional relationship between two sisters. Lucy (Mira Sorvino) is a train wreck. Bipolar and recently dumped by her married boyfriend, she lands on her estranged sister’s (Tammy Blanchard) doorstep. Set primarily in the sister’s NYC apartment, the movie is a raw exploration of their relationship, as these two thin-skinned characters struggle to accept themselves and one another.
The improvised, confessional feel of the movie veers into John Cassavetes territory, but the story, despite fine performances from all involved, ultimately doesn’t connect.