It’s about as stunning a week as ever to catch up on the smaller darlings of 2013. Things slip through the cracks in the theatrical scramble, with even the Before Midnights, Fruitvale Stations and Bling Rings taking precedence over the year’s more niche indie offerings. We’re here to amend that, with four art-house hits you may have missed, and one SyFy channel creature feature that viewers simply could not resist.
Top 5 Releases
How do you assign a grade to a film like this? My only answer is that you don’t, because quality is beside the point of a film like Sharknado. It made for a not terribly ironic double-feature with Pacific Rim upon its release mid-July, which quite likely ballooned its popularity to more ridiculous heights than it logically deserved. On an extremely basic level, though, I can’t admit part of me didn’t enjoy the hacky CG madness of a bunch of slutty boys and girls getting eaten by projectile sharks. Also, I felt this had better cinematic value to it than Now You See Me, so there’s that.
The story of the Iceman killer is one with pretty jarring dramatic potential, but also the potential to send itself into villainous overdrive. The casting of Michael Shannon in the eponymous role should reveal it as more of the former, but the past year has been a rough one for Shannon. Between cartoonish villain roles in Premium Rush and Man of Steel, it feels as though he’s become a victim of typecasting. Is he now doomed to play only psychologically disturbed family men and razor-toothed villains? That would be a sad case, but his performance in The Iceman may be one of the more necessary applications of his seething, reptilian performance style.
To those worried that Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement would somehow mean the decline of Studio Ghibli, please note how hard he and his colleagues have worked to give the company a bright future. Hayao co-wrote both The Secret World of Arrietty and From Up on Poppy Hill, helping to get the promising careers of Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Goro Miyazaki off the ground, the latter of whom thudded to the ground with his debut, Tales from Earthsea. Goro’s stronger years with Ghibli may still be ahead of him, since Poppy Hill does lack the soaring quality of Ghibli’s fantasy films, but has a somber serenity to it that makes it occasionally rather beautiful to look at. To call it minor would be perhaps to demeaning, but it’s certainly a more lightly charming film, and it makes an interesting match with Hayao’s own The Wind Rises, also opting for historical beauty over higher fantasy. (My review)
Everybody needs a Snow White movie to call their own. Plenty have been making do for decades with Disney’s animated version. Last year gave audiences updated offerings in the forms of gritty action-oriented Snow White and the Huntsman and the whimsical music box Mirror Mirror. If you’re like Justin, though, and you’ve still been left wanting a film version of the fable to call your own, you may very well be charmed by Pablo Berger’s more classical silent treatment. Swelled with Alfonso de Vilallonga’s romanticizing score and given teeth by Maribel Verdu’s often delicious performance as this film’s evil queen, it’s a lovely, traditional reiteration of the story. My preference remains for the emphatic quirk of Mirror Mirror, but now we can all rest peacefully knowing nearly every faction of humanity has a Snow White to call the fairest of them all.
This is the kind of documentary that really takes you aback with how committed the director is to their subject and how creatively they go about presenting it. It’s actually somewhat startling that Sarah Polley would feel so secure as to present such intimate details of her family history to a wide audience, but it’s a gift that she has. That hasn’t been lost on any of us, Justin choosing it in our Best Movies of 2013 So Far Q&A. “Not since 2010’s Exit Through the Gift Shop has a nonfiction work been able to congeal form and content in such an invigorating and satisfying way. Polley’s film engaged me first with her absorbing, if seemingly conventional, talking-head feature exploring the history behind a major family secret. But it wasn’t until near the end, when she uncloaks the very artifice of her own filmmaking approach, that the true meaning behind her film becomes entirely apparent.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, so I won’t embarrass myself by trying. The work speaks passionately for itself.
Did you catch me calling Now You See Me less cinematically satisfying than Sharknado? If not then I wrote 945 words in my review about why the film is stimulating, but not really entertaining. Shaun of the Dead rip-off Cockneys vs. Zombies hits shelves promptly a month after its theatrical release, which says more than a straight-to-DVD release probably would. It’s also irrelevant when you can just go out and see The World’s End. Rob Zombie horror The Lords of Salem had its share of interest upon release, so it might be worth a look if you’re interested in the indie horror scene, but so is You’re Next. Basically I’ll never stop telling you to check out the underseen gems of August 23rd.
Streaming Pick of the Week
Instantly Streaming via Netflix
This Is Martin Bonner had a very small theatrical roll-out in August, but has quickly found its way to Netflix. Much as the big screen venue well suits the eerie quality of this Reno, Nevada set miniature, it’s one that should have no more difficulty charming and affecting viewers on a smaller screen. As I wrote in my review, “Many films that deal with elderly characters getting a new-lease-on-life forgo all the debts that come with taking that lease out. What makes This Is Martin Bonner such a quiet accomplishment is that Hartigan admits to not nearly having all the answers, nor do his characters.” That free and open quality has made the film such an enduring emotional touchstone ever since I first saw it. If you opt out of it, you’re only doing yourself a disservice.